Buckminster Fuller didn't think much of Steve Jobs' Apple

From Alex Nevala-Lee's "What Steve Jobs learned from Buckminster Fuller during their only meeting" posted Tuesday by Fast Company:

Fuller, 85, was dressed in the dark suit that he favored for all of his public appearances, and, in person, he was startlingly small. His driver’s license may have said that he was five foot six, but he had been about two inches shorter even in his youth, and his stature had been diminished by age. He had a huge, bald head with white hair trimmed almost to the scalp, a large hearing aid, and black, plastic glasses that magnified his hazel eyes into soft, enormously deep pools...

No one would ever know what [Jobs] and Fuller said to each other in private at Apple, which was only months away from its initial public offering...

For his part, Fuller was unconvinced that the personal computer would enable his lifelong vision of access to information. “He didn’t believe it,” [documentary filmmaker Taylor] Barcroft recalled. “He thought that only mainframes could do that work.” Fuller had devoted his career to predicting the impact of technology, but he saw nothing special in Apple: “I remember him saying that he thought the computer was a toy.”

Judging from his eagerness to meet Fuller, their encounter left a greater impression on Steve Jobs... Since the ’60s, college campuses had found an unlikely hero in Fuller, whose reputation as an inventor was based on the geodesic dome, a hemispherical structure used in everything from industrial buildings to hippie communes, as well as the sculpture studio at Reed. He had been given a crucial push by the Whole Earth Catalog, an oversized guide to books and tools for the counterculture that Jobs... described as “one of the bibles of my generation.”

And Fuller’s influence at Apple was visible in even more fundamental ways. When Jobs and his partner Steve Wozniak—who later praised Fuller as “the 20th-century’s Leonardo da Vinci”—needed an industrial designer to build the housing for the Apple II, they hired Jerry Manock, a graduate of the legendary product design program at Stanford University. Manock established what became the Apple Industrial Design Group using an iterative approach that he attributed to Fuller: “He wasn’t interested in solving just one tiny design problem. He would look at the next level up, and the next level up, and the next level up.”

One of the 17 icons [in the Think Different poster series] was Buckminster Fuller, who had been featured at the request of Jobs himself.

Excerpted by Fast Company from Nevala-Lee's "Inventor of the Future: The visionary life of Buckminster Fuller."

My take: This story is like donut, a sweet piece of dough with a hole in the middle. To be fair, however, it was plucked from a book about Fuller, not Jobs.


  1. Bart Yee said:
    Fuller probably was led by the unattributed mantra “you’ll never be fired for choosing IBM (mainframes)”. Such was the mindset that it took large computers in central locations and limited public access to do the work. Well, maybe internet servers still perform that function so maybe he was partly right, but the personal computer and Macs revolutionized normal people’s access and productivity, democratizing computing resources.

    And of course, Jobs saw that possibility along with many other Silicon Valley computer startups.

    August 3, 2022
    • Gregg Thurman said:
      Which would make him a follower.

      August 3, 2022
  2. Gregg Thurman said:
    How great a futurist could Buckminster have been when buildings remain essentially square and he missed the evolution of computers completely.

    August 3, 2022
  3. Several college professors I knew were enthralled by Buckminster Fuller. He was almost a guru. They lent me his books.
    “… we can make all of humanity successful through science’s world-engulfing industrial evolution provided that we are not so foolish as to continue to exhaust in a split second of astronomical history the orderly energy savings of billions of years’ energy conservation aboard our Spaceship Earth. These energy savings have been put into our Spaceship’s life-regeneration-guaranteeing bank account for use only in self-starter functions. – R. Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (1968)

    August 3, 2022
  4. Daniel Epstein said:
    Seems like it would be very possible to underestimate the importance of Steve Jobs and Apple in October of 1980 when he met Buckminster Fuller.
    And by then Fuller had already developed most of his grand ideas. I am more interested in what Steve Jobs thought. Since Job’s was greatly impressed and then went on to be a significant actor in the world we live in we should look at Fuller’s ideas with interest. I am sure Fuller would have been more impressed with the Jobs of 2000 and 2010 compared to the 1980 version.

    August 3, 2022
  5. Gregg Thurman said:
    Necessity is the mother of all inventions.

    Great strides in battery technology and electric motor power efficiency only came about when it became apparent when geo-political forces, costs of extraction and harm to the environment could no longer be covered up.

    The sudden and rapid migration to electric powered transportation was inevitable. It just took one company, not beholden to the technologies of the past, to show it could be done.

    If Musk hadn’t done it, Fisker or Scaringe or Rimac would have. To me the greatest of these four is Mate Rimac. At 21 years of age he reinvented electric motor design and component procurement. His first commercial electric vehicle exceeded 250 mph and simultaneously extended range.

    Electric would have never become possible in Detroit or the other ICE manufacturing centers around the world. It took new thinking to solve new problems.

    August 4, 2022
  6. Regenerative brakes and LEDs alone are saving an incredible amount of energy. As the rooftops of Asian cities get a layer of something photovoltaic renewable energy initial costs continue to decline. A summer camp in Maine, Chewonki, teaches young campers about energy conservation.

    August 4, 2022

Leave a Reply